Mitochondria as pharmacological targets in Down syndrome

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Mitochondria play a pivotal role in cellular energy-generating processes and are considered master regulators of cell life and death fate. Mitochondrial function integrates signalling networks in several metabolic pathways controlling neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. Indeed, dysfunctional mitochondria and mitochondrial-dependent activation of intracellular stress cascades are critical initiating events in many human neurodegenerative or neurodevelopmental diseases including Down syndrome (DS). It is well established that trisomy of human chromosome 21 can cause DS. DS is associated with neurodevelopmental delay, intellectual disability and early neurodegeneration. Recently, molecular mechanisms responsible for mitochondrial damage and energy deficits have been identified and characterized in several DS-derived human cells and animal models of DS. Therefore, therapeutic strategies targeting mitochondria could have great potential for new treatment regimens in DS. The purpose of this review is to highlight recent studies concerning mitochondrial impairment in DS, focusing on alterations of the molecular pathways controlling mitochondrial function. We will also discuss the effects and molecular mechanisms of naturally occurring and chemically synthetized drugs that exert neuroprotective effects through modulation of mitochondrial function and attenuation of oxidative stress. These compounds might represent novel therapeutic tools for the modulation of energy deficits in DS.

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